The National Library of Israel digitizes a 60-page manuscript on the Portuguese Inquisition

Nearly 500 years after the start of the Portuguese Inquisition, rare documentation of its proceedings and its victims has been discovered in the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem and digitized for the first time. time.

The 60-page manuscript, written in the 18th century, documents the first 130 years of activity of the court of the Portuguese Inquisition, mainly in Lisbon. It includes detailed information on the trials conducted by inquisitors against newly converted Christians accused of continuing to practice Judaism secretly.

The document, written in Portuguese, is known as “Memoria de Todos os Autos-da-Fé Que Setem Feito em Lisboa” (“A record of all the Autos-da-Fé that took place in Lisbon”) . It includes information on the autos-da-fé – public spectacles in which the sentences of the victims of the Inquisition were read and carried out by the authorities. Most of the information concerns such ceremonies in Lisbon between the years 1540 and 1669 with a brief mention of the trials in Tomar.

The number of victims at each auto-da-fé, the dates and places of the trials, as well as the names of the priests who gave sermons, are included in the document.

The manuscript also contains the number of people burned at the stake. Among those prosecuted were “new Christians” accused of “Judaizing,” but not all of the defendants mentioned in the document were Jews. The “old Christians” (defendants from families with no Jewish background) were also found guilty of sodomy, bigamy, possession of forbidden books and sacrilege.

Page from a manuscript describing autos-da-fé in Lisbon, Portugal, discovered in the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel. Credit: National Library of Israel.

In 1536, the Catholic Church launched the Inquisition in Portugal following a massive influx into the land of anus (Jews forced to convert to Christianity) fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. The Portuguese Inquisition included particularly cruel punishments often carried out in front of large crowds who gathered to watch autos-da-fé.

Trials ceased after around 250 years, although the Portuguese Inquisition was not officially abolished until 1821.

Over the centuries, most Jews who converted to Christianity in Portugal abandoned any sign of their Jewish roots, but some continued to maintain some form of private Jewish observance. For example, some secretly celebrated Yom Kippur and Passover late in order to confuse authorities, or lit Sabbath candles inside pottery vessels to conceal the flames. Children under 12 were not allowed to attend these clandestine religious ceremonies to prevent them from revealing secrets that could betray their families.

According to Yochai Ben-Ghedalia, director of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel, “These discoveries bring to light the realities of a complex chapter in Jewish history, as well as the obsession with the Inquisition for revealing any form of deviance, including traces of Jewish tradition. We hope the newly discovered document will help scholars better investigate this fascinating and difficult time in history.

Illustration of the autos-da-fé of the Portuguese Inquisition in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Public domain photo courtesy of the National Library of Israel.

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